Monday, June 06, 2016

Colorado emerging as a national leader in developing a recreational-based economy

The common refrain among businesses along Colorado's recreation-rich Interstate 70 mountain corridor over the past few years is "record breaking." Soaring numbers of visitors are swelling private and public coffers in both summer and winter. Tourist-generated tax revenues are reaching peaks. The recreation season now stretches for almost 12 months with more opportunities for year-round play than ever before. While outdoor recreation has long been an economic keystone in Colorado, it is only now getting recognized as a major economic driver nationwide, with proposed federal legislation aiming to bolster the industry that has long languished at the fiscal kids' table. This is a period of amelioration for recreation — a time when gear companies, rafting outfitters, ski areas and advocacy groups join the grown-up table, alongside industrial stalwarts such as energy development, manufacturing and technology, in conversations about the nation's economic development and public land policy. "We are really getting to the point where I think the outdoor industry can save the world," said Luis Benitez, the silver-tongued Everest climber who heads the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. "We are so limited on things we all can look at and say this is good for our heritage, our education, our environment, our health and wellness and our economy. The outdoor industry is one of the few things everyone can recognize as vitally important."  State leaders, Benitez said, are realizing it's no longer about luring those 500-employee juggernaut companies. State leaders are pursuing outdoor companies with five to 20 employees — such as Pagosa Springs' Voormi, Rifle's The Whole Works, Steamboat Springs' Big Agnes and Icelantic Skis in Denver — that can anchor a diversifying rural economy. "And these are the guys who are starting to influence policy," Benitez said. "This is literally the coming of age for this industry. It's been considered an adolescent for many years and now it's showing up with a bank account and a checkbook, and is a serious player in the conversation." Jessica Wahl, government affairs manager for the Oudoor Industry Association in Boulder, there have been major breakthroughs in Congress this year "with bills that are solely related to recreation. We used to see recreation just tacked onto something. Now it's standing on its own." A pivotal piece of proposed legislation comes from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. His Recreation, Not Red Tape bill hopes to streamline convoluted public agency processes to expedite permitting while also creating National Recreation Area designation for highly treasured public playgrounds. The bill includes a clause that would allow individual forests, such as the White River National Forest, to keep ski-area fees generated in their boundaries — a huge deal for Colorado...more

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